Elizabeth Jane Cochrane set out to beat Phileas Fogg’s record of going around the world in 80 days on this date in 1888 and she did it, returning just under 73 days later. She did it under the pen name her first editor had given her – Nellie Bly.
Cochrane was 24 when she accomplished her circumnavigation, traveling virtually unchaperoned through Europe, the Near East, China and Japan.
But she has to have been about the most courageous female journalist of the century. She had gotten herself committed to an insane asylum the year before and spent two weeks as an inmate at the notorious asylum on Blackwell’s Island in order to write an expose´for the New York World.
The expose´was her ticket to a real job. She’d left the Pittsburgh Dispatch when they told her no more stories about the hardships faced by factory girls, just nice stuff for the ladies’ pages, please.
She’d been invited to join the Dispatch after submitting a fiery letter to the editor when she was 18 – and in an effort to make her job more interesting, she made herself a foreign correspondent and went to Mexico for six months, filing stories on the culture, people and politics. Criticism of dictator Porfirio Diaz got her thrown out of Mexico and once home, it was back to the women’s pages. New York beckoned.
Eventually she married a millionaire forty years her senior and when he died, she ran his steel-container manufacturing business – she invented and patented the prototype of the 55 gallon oil drum that is still used today. She died at 57 of tuberculosis.
Her nom de plume came from a popular Stephen Foster song of the day, a nice little song, but it was Cochrane who really made it famous.
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Happy birthday Claude Monet! Here’s one of the more than two thousand pictures he painted: